The lone UNC undergraduate to declare for the NBA Draft announced he was coming back. The targeted transfers have moved on to different locations. There is no one in the class of 2018 that is on Carolina’s radar, and Coach Roy Williams has moved on to 2019.
Folks, we now have a basketball team for next season.
It’s a little weird, mind you. Last year at this time while still glowing over the national title, Williams was still trying to convince Cameron Johnson and Kevin Knox to join the team. We all know how those dramas played out, so it’s a nice change of pace to go into the summer knowing who will suit up for the team.
There will be plenty of time to debate lineups, playing time, opponents, and so forth as the first game is still over five months away. Still, as you settle into the summer, let’s take a quick peek at who will be donning the argyle come November.
The 3rd Team All-American comes back from his experience declaring for the NBA Draft to use that experience in the upcoming season. The Huntersville native seemed to hit a wall at the end of the season, his first as a starter. It’ll be interesting to see if he still averages 32 minutes a game, or if the increased presence and experience down low will allow him to lower that number and not have to take a huge load off the offense.
Another of UNC’s 40% three point shooters during 2017-18, Williams will have to take on a bigger load of the shooting from the guard position with Joel Berry moving on. The result will likely see defenses shift to help on the senior, so if he ends his final season still shooting 40% at higher volume with more focus on him, it’ll be a good year.
By all accounts, Johnson joined the crew in Chapel Hill last year thinking it’d be a quick stop. Then he injured his knee, keeping him from playing until December. Then he quickly earned the right to start. Then there’s the hip procedure after the season. In between, he quickly realized he didn’t just join a team, he joined a family. Now that the coaches and his teammates know what to expect from Johnson, one would expect him to pick up right where he left off. And now that he’s “healthier than he’s been since high school,” expect his 34% 3-point shooting clip to go up.
Seventh carries the weight of the world as he will step up as the main point guard for the Tar Heels. His career so far has been disappointing for him, between the struggles his freshman year and the injuries last year. The injuries were a real kick in the teeth as Woods had shown some real development prior to missing two months. He goes in as the presumed starting point guard, and with defenses not as worried about the position as they have had to be the past few seasons, at least at first, Woods will have a chance to make them regret that decision.
The rising junior only averaged about nine minutes a game last year, and with the recruits coming in it’s easy to ask where the minutes will come from for BRob to play. However, the new faces will be trying to learn how to play in Carolina’s offense and figuring out how to play defense, while Robinson will have two years under his belt. Remember, Robinson shot 40% from 3 last year on limited attempts. Look for Robinson to make his case for minutes.
Rush at this point in his career looks to get minutes when the game is well out of hand, but none of us are at practice. The team’s hatmaker will continue to help both the newcomers and veterans better, and if he starts getting minutes it’ll be because of him blossoming beyond anybody’s expectations in the offseason.
“Soph-o-Mores” (RIP Woody)
Brooks’ season could be seen as a disappointment, going from starting to only playing about 10 minutes a game. The truth is, without any seasoned help in the post to learn from, Brooks had to make his mistakes for everyone to see. At one point, John Henson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks all made us wonder why they were on the court. With a year under his belt and a full offseason working with the team, look for him to take a step up. The hope also is that he gets to see more time at the four, but look for that move to happen his junior year with Maye no longer on the roster.
While Brooks was a starter and saw his minutes go down, by the end of the season Manley was the first big off the bench. He earned his coach’s trust enough for that, even if he could never hit his mark in the conditioning test. Look for him to see increased minutes with a full offseason with the strength staff and tougher competition coming in, and he stands to be a real breakout candidate his sophomore year.
If there’s a question about where Brandon Robinson’s minutes will come from, then that question is even stronger for the Guilderland, NY native. With a year under his belt, he’ll likely see time at the start of the season, but the question will be how much there is for him as the freshmen improve.
Huffman was perhaps the biggest project coming in, and his career is looking to take a similar path to that of Joel James. That said, he, along with Brooks and Manley, remain the only guys who have played the traditional five on the roster. If things come together for him he could quickly see minutes as a towering force down low.
Walker Miller, KJ Smith (rs)
The brother of UNC-Greensboro’s coach didn’t see much time last year. Miller likely will be a resident in Blue Steel for his UNC career, and yet none of us thought Wes would contribute much, either.
Smith is a huge unknown. The thought is that he’ll likely join the cast of Blue Steel, but with Carolina’s lack of experience at the point guard position and a year in practice under his belt, he very easily could be out on the floor if the other lead guards struggle.
Rechon “Leaky” Black
Williams started recruiting the incoming freshman from Concord while he was still a point guard about the size of Marcus Paige and Joel Berry. Leaky has grown since then, and could be one of the tallest players to play point under Williams. With the experience and talent coming in at forward, the versatility will serve him well. Black also held on to his commitment at Carolina before the NCAA investigation was over, so he should fit right in with the family atmosphere.
Declaring for Carolina before his season began seemed to take a huge weight off of Little’s shoulders. Coach Williams may have benefited from other teams being at the top of his list being mentioned in the FBI probe that is growing shakier by the day, but regardless the signee is Williams’ biggest since the “junk” began. Little has exploded on the national scene, taking the MVP of the McDonald’s game and risen as high as three on some lists. The scary thing is he may not start, as he plays a position that has a lot of depth. That also means that, unlike other teams that recruit top ten talent, he won’t be expected to shoulder a huge load of minutes.
White is another player who’s been committed to Williams for a while, and comes in after setting multiple state scoring records. In all-star practices scouts have raved about his skills, while he’s mostly deferred in the games themselves. He enters the season likely as the primary backup, but looks to play in the Marcus Paige/Joel Berry shooter mode.
The 2018-19 Tar Heels come in with an interesting mix of experience and raw talent, a position the team hasn’t seen in a while. In the next five months we’ll be looking for scuttlebutt from the various camps and practices, speculate on who will play, and eagerly await the conference schedule to dissect how the season could go.
But at least one step is done: we know the team.